New masters program trains “ecosystem physicians”

Photo courtesy of skoeber / Flickr

Simon Fraser University has partnered with BCIT to offer a Masters in Science (M.Sc.) in Ecological Restoration.

The two-year program begins this fall. It will allow students to gain the benefits of both theoretical science and experiential knowledge from both campuses. Students who enroll in the program will be learning skills needed to restore ecosystems that have been harmed through human affairs and industrialization.

Ingrid Stevanovich, Dean of SFU’s Faculty of Environment, spoke to the The Peak and explained how this unique program came to be.

“While there are other programs that address challenges of ecological restoration, there is no comparable graduate program that covers the full breadth of interdisciplinary offerings that range from science, through the social sciences — as well as the technical aspects of the actual practice of remediation,” said Stevanovich.

She continued, “The program emerged as a collaborative process between both institutions. It was very much faculty-driven. Faculty members at both institutions promoted the idea, recognizing a) a gap in ecological restoration science training in Canada, and b) a tremendous need within the field of ecological restoration for better research and improved practices.”

Students will not only take classes at both SFU and BCIT, but also they will be engaged in various restoration projects across the Lower Mainland.

Some of the main topics they will learn inside the classroom and out in the field are these: how to assess degraded ecosystems, design a restoration prescription, develop and initiate detailed monitoring programs, establish scientifically-based approaches, and develop and apply project management guidelines.

Stevanovich emphasized how this program allows students to gain both practical and theoretical knowledge.

“The core intent is to provide the practical training that is BCIT’s specialty, with the core, high-integrity scientific expertise at SFU. [. . .] Both SFU and BCIT also excel in community engagement and practice-based learning, so it is a great partnership.”

The program consists of 36 credits. Exactly 18 of these credits will be at SFU, while the other 18 will be taken at BCIT. Students will take courses such as ecological restoration, project management, and research methods, and will even take a class where they must complete an applied research project.

A key component of the program will be that students visit active restoration sites around the Lower Mainland and learn valuable skills in understanding and taking measures to restore such sites.

Stevanovich spoke to the demand for careers in ecological restoration.

“There is no doubt that the field is going to be growing in demand — from the impact on ecosystems of industries, such as mining, forestry, or fishing, to the changes imposed upon ecosystems by urban growth. We have our challenges cut out for us as we seek to restore damaged ecosystems worldwide, and this joint graduate program is the new medical school for the environment.”

According to Doug Ransome, director of the program at BCIT, human activities have drastically affected the environment and climate. Said Ransome, “Restoration scientists and practitioners are ecosystem physicians.”